A rusted, cracked oil pan in the undercarriage of a car.

What Are the Signs of a Cracked Oil Pan?

Bolted underneath the engine’s crankshaft is a pan where oil collects after it has been pumped through the engine. When the engine is running, a pump moves the oil from the pan to lubricate engine parts and prevent overheating. If the pan cracks and you lose oil, the engine could seize up, leading to major repairs. Here’s how to detect a cracked oil pan and make the repair.

Monitor Oil Consumption

One of the first signs of a cracked oil pan may be excessive oil consumption. Typically, no car should use more than a quart of oil between oil changes. Any amount above that suggests the presence of some type of problem. For example, in older engines, worn valve stems, piston rings and guides and seals can cause oil to bleed into combustion chambers. Otherwise, a damaged pan could cause oil to seep out.

Oil being drained from a GMC Sport Utility Vehicle.Inspect the Engine Bottom

The bottom of the engine should be relatively clean with perhaps a little dirt and dust from the road apparent. However, if the engine undercarriage is soaked in oil, there’s a good chance the pan has cracked.

Further, the leaking oil may not have perceptibly reached the ground yet. So even if there’s no oil spot on the pavement, be sure to check if there’s oil coating the engine bottom.

Check the Ground Where You Park

Eventually, a cracked oil pan will lead to oil dripping onto the ground. That’s because oil flows naturally to the lowest point, which is to the pan. Therefore, you’ll soon notice a leak when your car remains parked in one location.

If the fluid’s color is light brown to black, then you can be sure it’s motor oil, not transmission, brake or power-steering fluid, and certainly not coolant. Look for the leak by sliding underneath your vehicle and using a flashlight to carefully inspect the pan.

Patch the Crack

Fortunately, fixing a cracked oil pan is a fairly straightforward, four-step process.

First, drain the oil from the pan. Second, thoroughly clean the pan with detergent or degreaser, then use coarse sandpaper to roughen the surface.

Third, apply a two-part epoxy, carefully following the instructions on the package. Mix the two epoxy adhesive tubes at an even one-to-one ratio to form a permanent bond that you can then use to cover the crack. The curing process can take up to 24 hours to complete. When applied correctly, epoxy withstands high temperatures and extreme pressure to supply a lasting solution.

Fourth, once you determine that the bond has set, fill the engine with oil. Next, check the dipstick to confirm the oil level is sufficient, then start the car. Lastly, inspect underneath the vehicle to verify the leak is no more. The ground beneath the vehicle should be free of fresh fluid.

You may find it easier to repair the pan by removing it, then reattaching it once the epoxy cures. A small oil pan crack can be a quick fix, but neglecting it can lead to needing a replacement pan or worse — engine damage.

Check out all the chemical & lubricant products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on repairing a cracked oil pan, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

about author

Matthew C. Keegan

Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.

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